Veteran linemen looking to lead WKU football team’s defense

Junior defensive lineman Quanterus Smith goes through workouts at Wednesday’s football practice. Smith is looking to be one of the leaders on the defensive line this season.

Brad Stephens

With more of second-year Head Coach Willie Taggart’s recruits seeing more playing time — both in the 2010 and 2011 classes — WKU is young in several areas.

The exception to this is the defensive line, where the Toppers return all four starters from a year ago and several key reserves.

Junior defensive end Quanterus Smith is the unit’s top returning tackler, as he accumulated 47 in 2010, including a team-high four sacks.

Smith said the combined experience of he, senior Jared Clendenin, juniors Kenny Martin and Jamarcus Allen and others has paid dividends for the defensive line’s progress throughout fall camp.

“We grew up together and we feel the way we all play,” Smith said before Wednesday’s practice. “Especially with having a young secondary, having veterans up front is real nice.”

Defensive tackles coach Eric Mathies, a seven-year veteran of the WKU coaching staff, said the Toppers’ continuity up front should pave the way for a breakout year as a unit.

“Any time guys have been around for that long, they start to get it,” Mathies said. “That’s why we’re going to put the pressure on them to be our workhorses on defense.”

Along with the four returning starters, Mathies mentioned senior defensive end Bo Adebayo and junior defensive tackle Rammell Lewis as having strong fall camps.

Meanwhile, Smith identified junior defensive end Cole Tischer as a player who has “improved a lot.”

Last season the WKU defense allowed 4.8 yards per carry and recorded just six sacks in Sun Belt Conference play.

Both totals ranked them last in the league. Mathies said he thinks it will be a different story this year.

“I expect us to be much, much better versus the run,” Mathies said. “Two years ago we weren’t very good against the run. Last year we were better against the run, but this year I expect us to be really darn good against the run.

“And then we’ve got some guys that can rush the passer in (Quanterus) Smith and Bo Adebayo and we’ll do some different packages where we bring in some linebackers and DB’s to rush the passer.”

Taggart also said he expects an improved defensive line in 2011.

“We said after last year that those guys are going to be the heart of our defense,” Taggart said. “Usually it takes until their junior or senior years for guys really to come into their own and we’re expecting for those guys to do it this year.”

Clendenin out Wednesday

Senior defensive end Jared Clendenin was held out of practice Wednesday and was walking around WKU’s practice field on crutches.

Taggart would not go into detail on the senior’s injury but said it was nothing that should keep the senior out long.

“It’s another camp bang,” Taggart said. “It’s just training camp and guys get beat up a little bit in training camp, and that’s something that usually happens. But he’ll be back soon.”

Clendenin started all 12 games in 2011, notching 38 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

He is the lone senior out of the Toppers’ four returning starters from the defensive line.

Mathies recruited Clendenin to WKU out of Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga., a perennial football prospect powerhouse.

Mathies said Clendenin’s work ethic was the biggest reason he wanted him to be a Topper.

“The one thing that I saw in high school, he wasn’t always the quickest, strongest or fastest, but he always was the hardest worker,” Mathies said. “He was at a high school with SEC and ACC players, four or five-star guys. And he was the one that stuck out.

“I can’t wait to see how things will unfold for him his senior year.”

350-pound Payne adjusts to college football

Reserve defensive tackles don’t normally receive a lot of attention during their freshman fall camp.

But when that player stands at a hard-to-miss 6-foot-1, 350-pounds, as is the case with WKU’s Jamichael Payne, people take notice.

Payne came to the Toppers via Auburn (Ala.) High School. Because of team rules, freshmen aren’t allowed to speak with media.

But Smith said he’s “glad to play on the same side of the ball” as Payne.

“He’ll be a big help,” Smith said. “Weighing that much, we’ll need him to plug up that middle for us. So he’ll be nice for us.”

Mathies said Payne has gone through the same adjustments as other freshmen.

“Mike’s a big kid, and he’s a strong kid, but he’s still a freshman,” Mathies said. “And they’ve got to understand the speed of this game and understand the intensity of this game. He’s starting to get it, but there’s times where I’ve got to get on him.

“Sometimes he’ll give me one of those crazy looks because I’ve got my own special way of getting on guys. He’ll give me that look and I’ll say, ‘Mike, you’re going to have to play.’ And he’s responded. He just has to push every day.”

Replacing Allen

Shortly after WKU began fall practice, it was announced that junior defensive tackle Jamarcus Allen was suspended for the Toppers’ Sept. 1 season opener against Kentucky.

Allen, who was suspended for violation of team rules, recorded 26 tackles in2010.

Mathies said Allen’s suspension has not been a worry for the defensive line.

“It is what it is and guys just have to step up,” Mathies said. “We’ll be fine.”